BPU Finds Gas Pipeline & Power Plant Justified By Christie Energy Master Plan
Climate Impacts Ignored, No Demonstration of Need
BPU Cherry Picks Laws, Policies, Plans, Reports, and Data
In light of important new information, this is a quick followup to my post last week on the BPU hearing where the Commissioners approved South Jersey Gas’ request to amend a prior June 2013 BPU Order (see this). Apologies in advance for the poor format of this post.
In that post, I accused BPU Commissioners of not considering extensive public comments on the project and conducting no open deliberations – that remains an accurate statement.
But I just now received a PDF (no link) of the formal Board Order approving the project (signed 7/23/15, but effective August 1, 2015).
The latest BPU Order does superficially address public comments as well as breaks new ground and thereby raises a host of issues that are actually quite revealing of how the BPU makes regulatory decisions.
Frankly, I could see no daylight between the BPU’s analysis and findings and those of the lawyers and lobbyists for SJG and BL England. The Order reads as if SJG lawyers drafted it. That is not outside the realm of possibility, given how the trove of emails between Executive Director Wittenberg and SJG lawyers revealed that SJG lawyers drafted critical regulatory documents at the Pinelands Commission, including the MOA with BPU, the Executive Director’s Report and recommendations to the Commission, and the response to public comments document.
So. let’s take an initial look at some of the issues raised by that Board Order.
1. Order ignores the Pinelands Commission
We urged BPU not to repeat mistakes of the past in prior Orders and get out in front of the Pinelands Commission – we asked that BPU table the SJG application until the Pinelands Commission decided the fate of the project, see:
Instead, BPU doubled down and reiterated an erroneous June 2013 finding that the South Jersey Gas pipeline was in compliance with all federal and state laws.
That was not correct when the initial finding was made in the June 21, 2013 Order and it is not true now.
Legally, the pipeline must be approved by the Pinelands Commission and it has not approved by the Pinelands Commission. Therefore, contrary to what BPU says in the Order, the pipeline is NOT in compliance with all federal and state requirements.
The BPU has total disregard for the Pinelands Commission’s role and is obviously doing the Governor’s Office and South Jersey Gas’s bidding and pressuring the Pinelands Commission to approve this project.
2. Did EPA sign off on the extension of the Clean Air Act compliance date to 2017?
Back in 2006, the DEP originally issued an enforcement order for violations of the federal Clean Air Act that required the BL England plant to upgrade to meet federal Clean Air Act standards or shut down.
Flouting a federal Clean Air Act based enforcement deadline, that Order was amended by the Christie Administration to promote re-powering and to extend the compliance deadline – most recently on July 11, 2104 after the Pinelands Commission refused to approved the SJG pipeline on january 10, 2014.
According to BPU, there was “consultation” with EPA on the amendment of the DEP ACO to extend the initial Clean Air Act compliance deadline to 2017.
It is really bad that EPA apparently signed off on that.
3. Inappropriately narrow scope of review by BPU
Because SJG claims that this is a “new project” based on significant new information and changes to the route to reduce impacts on the Pinelands, we have argued for an expanded review of the original project and reconsideration of the prior BPU Orders, which were done without adequate public involvement and contained critical technical flaws related to the need for the project, impact on renewable energy, and climate change impacts based on lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead, the scope of the BPU staff review was actually narrower that the initial review.
It is limited to just two items in SJG’s request (i.e. a) the new interconnect location and b) restriction on hookups in Pinelands Forest Area along the route.
But even within that narrow scope of review, the review was further reduced in scope and limited to “safety” issues related to the new interconnect station.
4. The initial route review and route modifications were limited to safety
According to the new BPU Order, prior to issuing the June 2013 Order, BPU worked with SJG to modify the original route proposed by SJG.
But the ONLY thing they considered during this route modification process was location with respect to 100 feet from occupied buildings (safety concerns). There is no indication that environmental resources and avoidance, minimization or mitigation of impacts were considered by BPU.
5. The Energy Master Plan consistency review process is a sham
The 2011 EMP contains five overarching goals:
- Drive down the cost of energy for all customers;
- Promote a diverse portfolio of new, clean, in-state generation;
- Reward energy efficiency and energy conservation and reduce peak demand;
- Capitalize on emerging technologies for transportation and power production;
- Maintain support for the renewable energy portfolio standard of 22.5% of energy from renewable sources by 2021.In addition to the overarching goals, the 2011 Energy Master Plan contains 31 policy recommendations in the four general sections of:
- Expand In-State Electricity Resources;
- Cost Effective Renewable Resources;
- Promote Cost Effective Conservation and Energy Efficiency;
- Support the Development of Innovative Energy Technologies.
I obviously don’t agree with all of these EMP goals and policies. But I do realize that they exist.
But instead of fully evaluating the proposed SJG pipeline and BL England plant for consistency with these EMP goals and policies, BPU cherry picked just ONE (seriously flawed) goal from the Energy Master Plan – “instate clean generation” – and ignored the effect of the project on other goals (e.g. efficiency and renewables et al).
Can’t do that.
But, they say we learn something new every day.
I didn’t know that there was a statute that required “maximum extent feasible” consistency with EMP – we should look into litigation on this.
6. BPU ignored consideration of Climate Change or the Global Warming Response Act goals
A significant new $500 million investment in fossil fuel based energy infrastructure is insane given what we now know about the rate of climate change and excellence of tipping points that will trigger irreversible runaway climate chaos.
Even the Pope weighed in.
New science on lifecycle emissions and global warming intensity from natural gas show that it is as bad or worse than coal.
Obviously, this kind of fossil infrastructure investment will undermine GWRA and renewable energy goals.
7. The assertion that NJ needs the capacity is not justified by any analysis or data
The BPU Order claims, without any supporting evidence, that the failure to build instate generation capacity will result in importation of dirty coal power – but that simply is not true. It also ignores the fact that capacity resources include efficiency, demand management, and renewable energy.
Instate efficiency and renewables can provide capacity – as well as imports of renewable power.
It is questionable that BL England closing will be replaced one for one by imports of coal power – instate efficiency and renewables would provide a portion of all of the power demand.
8. BPU comparison of coal versus gas GHG emissions is seriously flawed
BPU claims that natural gas plants are less greenhouse gas intensive than coal plants. This is a straw man and completely misleading claim. The issue is lifecycle impacts. The larger issue is efficiency and renewable alternatives.
Regardless that the most critical issue which is how best to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, the assertion that natural gas as a fuel is less GHG intensive than coal is demonstrable false.
On top of the misleading nature of this claim, there is no evidence cited to support this assertion.
And the coal unit at BL England is closed anyway (May 2014) – they are using oil/diesel.
And the BPU relies on the Clean Air Council, which is a political body and is not a credible scientific or technical source to back any conclusions.
9. BPU considered acid rain impacts on Pinelands forest, but not climate impacts
In another illustration of misleading cherry picking of the evidence, BPU claims, again with no evidence or expertise, that conversion from coal to gas will reduce SOx & NOx emissions and acid rain impacts on Pinelands forests from coal plants in Pennsylvania!
It is simply remarkable that the BPU bases a decision on criteria pollution emissions from coal plants in Pennsylvania, but completely ignores VOC ozone procurers and greenhouse gas emissions from the thousands of fracking wells there!
They also ignore climate impacts to Pinelands forest and human health impacts from BL England emissions.
10. “Primarily Serve the Pinelands” – How The Grid Works
A key issue is wether the pipeline and the BL England plant can be shown to “primarily serve the Pinelands”.
BPU attempts to support SJG’s argument in two ways: first by stating that 39 of 53 towns in the Pinelands get power from Atlantic City Electric and that electricity is distributed on the grid much like water flows through a stream or river. In making this argument, BPU again relies on the false assumption that if BL England shuts down that replacement power 1-1 – will be imported from coal plants in Pennsylvania.
The analogy to a flow of water is misleading – the electron field in the grid moves at virtually the speed of light. The grid is not dedicated from local power producer to local power consumer.
11. Distortion of PJM Report on Reliability upgrades
Some claim that if BL England is shut down, that environmentally destructive and costly new power lines will be built in order to address “reliability. Both claims are false.
Jus the opposite is true: PJM evaluated the grid reliability issue under the assumption that BL ENgland would shut down, that reliability upgrades would be to existing infrastructure, not new green fields projects, and they specifically noted that the grid was over 40 years old and in need of upgrades independent of BL England open or closed.
The PJM reliability upgrades are not all related to closure of BL England – the transmission infrastructure is over 40 years old and some of these upgrades would b e required with or without BL Ebngland – again, misleading statements.
12. No evidence or economic analysis to support claims about “price stability”
BPU makes several other unsubstantiated and questionable claims, including the the project will provide energy price stability and lower energy costs.
Costs and energy prices are not stated and do not consider benefits or social costs of carbon.
Lots to consider in this BPU Order – lots of very revealing statements made – I’ll try to get a link and be glad to provide it via email – thanks to Theresa at PPA for providing it _ Will provide links to other documents like PJM when I can.